Hoping to raise awareness about the Keystone pipeline he vehemently opposes, billionaire climate activist Thomas Steyer has ramped up his campaign, and it has turned personal.
His target? Russ Girling, CEO TransCanada Corp., the company trying to build the controversial pipeline.
Steyer challenged Girling this week to a live public debate over the Keystone, an offer the company quickly rejected. The group Steyer founded, NextGen Climate Action, also unleashed an attack ad and tried to air it on television—again.
The ad, which is on YouTube, depicts Girling as a lying, oil-drenched executive who duped the American public into thinking that the Keystone pipeline would help the United States become more energy independent and spur economic growth. For the second time in recent weeks, a TV station dropped the spot after it was found to violate network guidelines.
"It is not likely that a station would air that [ad], especially a station tied to a reputable major network," because it would put the station at risk of being sued for libel or defamation, said Kathleen Jamieson, a professor who studies political communication at University of Pennsylvania's Annenburg School for Communication.
The ad was supposed to run on the New England Sports Network (NESN) during Boston Red Sox versus Toronto Blue Jay baseball games Wednesday and Thursday evenings. The spot was intended to coincide with President Obama's visit to Martha Vineyard, where it would be broadcast.
A spokesperson for Comcast Spotlight—which handles regional ad buys for NESN— told InsideClimate News that it "reviews advertisements before airing on a case-by-case basis for compliance with our guidelines. We reviewed the ad in question and determined that it did not comply with those guidelines."
Mike Casey, a consultant for NextGen Climate Action, said he was "surprised" by Comcast Spotlight's decision to nix the satirical ad and said he doesn't "understand why we are giving deference to foreign oil companies."
The "humorous ad debunks the propaganda they have been selling about the Keystone boondoggle's effects on jobs, energy security and gas prices," he said.
If approved by the Obama administration, the Keystone XL would carry up to 830,000 barrels a day of oil sands crude from tar sands mines in Alberta to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. The Obama administration is expected to determine whether the project is in the "national interest" later this year or early next year.
2nd Time Ad Pulled Last Minute
On Monday morning, a sales representative for Comcast Spotlight confirmed with NextGen Climate Action that the ad would run this week on NESN, according to emails obtained by InsideClimate News. But later that day or the next day, Comcast Spotlight's legal team pulled the plug on the spot because the ad was "an attack of a personal nature."
It was the second time in two weeks that NextGen Climate Action thought it had secured airtime for its ad—only to see it rescinded days before it was scheduled to air. Last week, the ad was supposed to run on the NBC-owned WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. during Obama's appearance on "The Tonight Show." The spot was canceled at the last minute, also because it was "an attack of a personal nature," the station said, in violation of its standards.
After that, Steyer's group sought out a different outlet and settled on NESN's Red Sox coverage, because it thought Obama, an avid sports fan, might watch the games during his vacation.
"We want to make sure the President enjoys a humorous commercial that discusses these serious issues in an entertaining way because, you know, he's on vacation," Casey said.
Steyer, an Obama donor and friend, who's worth about $1.4 billion, has been at the forefront of recent efforts to build public opposition to the Keystone pipeline on climate change grounds. His social media campaign, We Love Our Land, bombards sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube with petitions, photos and videos detailing the consequences if the pipeline is approved. On Friday, NextGen Climate Action announced a $1 million TV ad buy, called Bringing Down TransCanada's House of Cards: The Keystone Chronicles, which will feature four, 90-second ads that the groups says will be broadcast on Sunday morning programs over one month. Steyer is also spending $400,000 in TV ads critical of Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, a climate skeptic.